Detroit's Nicklas Lidstrom was having an incredible season, one that was even more worthy of Norris Trophy consideration than the credit some pundits were giving. That seems strange, considering Lidstrom is an established brand when it comes to voting for this trophy, and winning it one more time would give him eight -- the same number as Bobby Orr and tie him for the most ever.
Alas, Lidstrom -- typically a pillar of durability -- sustained an injury and missed 10 games. Detroit's severe dip in form without Lidstrom could be an argument to bolster his candidacy, but the other top candidates are all likely to play at least 80 games this season. While advanced statistics still point to Lidstrom as a leading candidate, his traditional stats are now lacking and, given the tight race, missing 12 percent of the season is a big deal.
2011-12 NHL TROPHY TRACKER
With the final week of the regular season upon us, NHL.com takes a look at which players from around the League are on track to be considered for some of hockey's most storied awards.
So the race for the Norris should come down to four other guys -- previous contenders Shea Weber and Zdeno Chara and newcomers to the elite Erik Karlsson and Alex Pietrangelo. It will be fascinating to see how the general electorate of the Professional Hockey Writers Association votes, because the interesting circumstances with Karlsson's resume.
Erik Karlsson, Senators -- Karlsson has had an amazing offensive season. Given the drop in scoring, his 19 goals and 77 points are even more impressive than Mike Green's 19 and 76 from 2009-10. The sweet-skating Swede is tied for 10th in the League in scoring -- Green finished tied for 20th in 2009-10 and tied for 28th the year before when he had 73 points.
What's more, Karlsson is tied for second in goals-for per 60 minutes at even strength (3.41), according to Behind The Net, and his goals against per 60 minutes at even strength has improved from 3.04 last season to 2.48 this year. He also faces tough competition (second toughest among Ottawa defensemen according to Behind The Net's Quality of Competition rating), but not quite as tough as the other guys in this group.
The single biggest strike against Karlsson is he doesn't kill penalties. No active Norris winner (which covers every year dating back to 1999 except for 2004, when Scott Niedermayer won) has played less than 2:10 per night on the PK. Karlsson averages 33 seconds. While the number of penalties called and power plays awarded has dropped considerably this season, it still doesn't excuse the hole on Karlsson's resume.
Will his outstanding offense trump the lack of PK time? Will reputation, something that plays far too much of a role in the voting for this trophy, cost Karlsson, or will the groundswell of support for him in Ontario help fend off more veteran candidates?
The simple answer is this: Lidstrom deserved the award six weeks ago, but he got hurt. Karlsson's body of work -- having 25 more points than the next guy -- should catch enough voters' attention to fend off Lidstrom, Chara and Weber. Unless some voters don't even put him on the ballot; such was Green's fate in 2010.
Zdeno Chara, Bruins -- There is a very compelling case for Chara. His goals-for per 60 minutes at even strength is exactly the same as Karlsson's (3.41) and his goals-against is slightly better. He's also second among defensemen in scoring with 52 points, and has played nearly 170 more minutes this season on the PK than his Ottawa counterpart.
Chara has also faced tougher competition at even strength -- he's fifth in the League among defensemen in that department (Karlsson is 34th). That said, Karlsson does have seven more goals and 25 more points and it isn't a power-play inflated total (Karlsson has 49 points at even strength).
Shea Weber, Predators -- Lidstrom would be a deserving finalist. Alex Pietrangelo has a decent case -- he's fourth in points with 50 and is sixth in goals-against per 60 minutes at even strength, but some of that value feels a little too "system quarterback." Four of the top six in GA/60 at even strength are Blues, though he has faced the toughest competition on the team.
Weber has 19 goals, which ties him with Karlsson for the most among defensemen. He's also faced tough competition (17th) and played nearly two more minutes per game at even strength than Pietrangelo. Weber also has more hits and blocked shots than any of these five potential winners.
Getting to 20 goals (if Karlsson doesn't) might help his candidacy, along with his reputation, but this looks like another close-but-not-quite resume for Weber.